Andean Bears: Still Elusive

[dcwsb inline="true"]

The cloud forest is, as you might expect, often cloudy.

The cloud forest is, as you might expect, often cloudy.

Russ Van Horn is studying Andean bears in Peru. Read his previous blog, Andean Bear Symposium.

I’m in Lima now, on my way to San Diego from the eastern slope of the Andes. I’ve spent most of my time since my last blog entry looking for evidence of Andean bears in the forests of eastern Peru. I began this search by returning to a mountainside where we’d earlier seen the leftovers of a bear’s meal and where we’ve had a camera “trap” in place for several weeks. Unfortunately, the camera did not take any photos of Andean bears, but it had snapped additional species of birds and mammals. There’s clearly quite a diversity of wildlife at that site, but it doesn’t appear to be used much by bears, at least at this time of year.

The bamboo was incredibly dense at this site.

The bamboo was incredibly dense at this site.

We spent a few days camping in the forest nearby, on a ridge that eventually climbs up to alpine grasslands. In other areas of their range, Andean bears are reported to use similar grasslands during some seasons of the year. Evidence of bear presence, such as feeding sites and feces, has been reported to last longer in such grasslands than in the cloud forest, so it would be interesting to look for evidence that bears use these particular grasslands. However, we weren’t able to get that far afield because of the fantastic density of bamboo. In one thicket there was more than nine bamboo stems per square meter, for a few hundred meters. Cutting a passage through the bamboo was a slow process, and although we rationed our drinking water, we eventually ran dry and had to turn back.

The diversity of canopy structure in the cloud forest

The diversity of canopy structure in the cloud forest

This ridge rises above the valley through which the Interoceanic Highway is being built. Periodically, loud explosions echoed off the surrounding mountains, as construction crews blasted through the cliffs, and these crashes would make us jump, even over the ringing of the machetes in the bamboo. There are parallels between the road construction and our trail construction, but we attempt to minimize our impact on the forest as much as possible. This is one of the challenges to ecological researchers: can you study a system without your activities changing the way it functions?

We’re trying.

Russ Van Horn is a senior researcher for the San Diego Zoo.

RELATED POSTS